The holidays are a time to celebrate and enjoy connecting with family and friends. If you are anything like me, it can be a time of overindulgence.

My sister-in-law hosts our family Thanksgiving dinner. She is a wonderful hostess. We arrive at her home and immediately smell those wonderful aromas of the turkey and spices as we enter. There are a variety of yummy appetizers ready for us to devour.

By the time dinner is served, I’m usually not very hungry. That doesn’t stop me from piling my plate high with turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, turnips, gravy, stuffing and more. Then the desserts — cheesecake, pie, cookies and candy appear with a large bowl of freshly whipped cream.

I’m starting to drool just writing about it.

Thanksgiving can be the kickoff to a season of dining excess and overeating. Holiday parties, gifts of homemade goodies and other indulgences can make it easy to fall off the healthy-eating wagon.

According to the National Institutes of Health, holiday eating can account for one or two extra pounds (or more) every year. How do we become more mindful of what we consume during the holiday season? 

Here are some tips on how to avoid holiday heft this year:

1. Be realistic. Don’t try to lose weight during the holidays; strive for maintaining.

2. Exercise. Once the dishes are washed, grab a few people and take a short 15- to 20-minute walk.

3. Before leaving for a party, eat a healthy snack. Having a handful of peanuts, some carrot sticks, or some celery and peanut butter, for example, will help you avoid showing up hungry, and you’ll be less likely to eat as much. This is particularly important if you are going to miss your usual meal time.

4. Take a deep breath before filling your plate. Think about what you are choosing when you eat. If you decide to allow yourself to have a special treat — Nana’s special cherry squares, perhaps — do so purposely, and be sure to truly enjoy the seasonal treat.

5. If you are facing a buffet table loaded with food, check out the entire selection before starting to serve yourself. If you know what is available at the end of the buffet, you might decide to skip the dinner rolls as you begin to make your choices.

6. If you are tempted to ask for seconds, stop and wait a few minutes. It can take 10 to 20 minutes for our systems to register a feeling of fullness. Give yourself a few minutes to decide if you still want that second helping.

7. Be thoughtful about beverages. Alcohol can lessen inhibitions and induce overeating. Nonalcoholic beverages can be full of calories and sugar, too.

8. If you overeat at one meal, go light on the next.

9. Take the focus off the food. Play cards or a board game rather than standing around the appetizers chatting and eating.

10. Bring your own healthy dish to share with everyone.

11. Pay attention to your meal while you’re eating. Focus on chewing your food well and enjoying the smell, taste and texture of each item. Don’t rush it.

12. Leave the table when you are done eating. Offer to help clear plates and do the dishes. You won’t be tempted to reach for more food and you’ll be getting into the holiday spirit by helping.

13. Going out more and staying out later often means cutting back on sleep. Sleep loss can make it harder to make healthy decisions about your diet. Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep per night to guard against mindless eating.

Most of all, remember what the season is about — celebrating and connecting with the people you care about. When you focus more on the joy of the season, the food becomes a less important aspect of the celebration.

Tracy Arabian is the communications officer at SeniorCare Inc., a local agency on aging that serves Gloucester, Beverly, Essex, Hamilton, Ipswich, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Rockport, Topsfield and Wenham.

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